The opportune time for advocating for parks and recreation
Across the country, summer programming at park and recreation agencies is in full swing and Park Champion events are coming in hot! Several Park Champions have hosted members of Congress and their staff this summer to allow them to see first-hand how park and recreation agencies are making their communities happier, healthier, more economically vibrant places to live and play.
On June 15, East Orange Recreation and Cultural Affairs in New Jersey kicked off its summer meal program and second annual Park Champion event in Rowley Park with a bang and a bouncy house. Local celebrity DJ Lil’ Man served as the master of ceremonies for the event, which also featured slides, games, dance contests, face painting and, of course, free healthy meals and snacks for kids through the USDA Summer Food Service Program. Ravi Boze-Adams, program director for Afterschool Meals & Summer Food and a dedicated Park Champion, used the Park Champion Advocacy Toolkit to invite East Orange’s members of Congress and their staff out to the event. Jeremy Julius from Senator Robert Menendez’s office was in attendance and saw first-hand the importance of the USDA summer meal reimbursement program to the children of East Orange, as well as the agency’s work to create a healthier community through the Commit to Health initiative. He even stated that he wants to make his attendance an annual tradition!
On June 23, Baltimore Recreation and Parks and Baltimore Parks & People Foundation hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the grand opening of Ambrose Kennedy Park in the Johnson Square community. Ambrose Kennedy Park, funded in part by NRPA’s Great Urban Parks Campaign, boasts a splashpad and a variety of beautiful stormwater management features, some of the first stormwater management projects of their kind to be completed in the state. Senator Ben Cardin offered opening remarks for the ceremony, thus turning the ribbon-cutting ceremony into a Park Champion event. “I am particularly impressed by your sensitivity to the environment,” Senator Cardin notes. “Stormwater is one of our major problems in protecting the Chesapeake Bay. You’re doing something about it right here in Johnson Square! You’re showing leadership!”
DC Department of Parks and Recreation, the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission Department of Parks and Recreation, Prince George’s County, and the Caroline County Recreation and Parks Department kicked off Park and Recreation Month by co-hosting the second annual Summer Camp on Capitol Hill (read more about this event on page 64). Several representatives from congressional offices and Brandon Lipps, USDA’s acting deputy undersecretary of the Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, were in attendance to see how federal funding, such as the 21st Century Community Learning Program and the Summer Food Service Program, is critical to fostering healthier youth through out-of-school-time programs offered at park and recreation facilities nationwide. Summer Camp on Capitol Hill featured a variety of activities that children typically participate in during summer camp and out-of-school time, including soccer, tennis, arts and crafts, Commit to Health nutrition education activities and the Wildlife Explorers Nature Discovery Program.
Hosting Your Members of Congress
With the congressional August recess now here, Park Champions are making plans to host their members of Congress and their staff members. From groundbreakings and ribbon-cuttings to tours of new parks, trails and community centers, Park Champions are highlighting their best assets, while building better relationships with their members of Congress.
This congressional summer recess presents a perfect opportunity for you to host your own Park Champion event. On August 3, members of Congress will head to back to their home districts and states for an entire month and are available to connect with their constituents. In the current political climate on Capitol Hill, creativity in showcasing how policies impact the work back home will be critical to ensure the future of parks and recreation. Park and recreation professionals are uniquely positioned to take an innovative approach to advocacy. Instead of relying on standard advocacy techniques, you have resources to draw on, such as beautiful parks, quality programming and a deep connection with your community. Sure, anyone can interact with their congressional offices with the occasional email or phone call. But, by inviting your members of Congress or their staff to see, first-hand, the essential services you provide, you can leave a lasting impression that will allow you to build a strong relationship with your federal-elected officials and their staff year-round.
The powerful storytelling, show-and-tell method is exactly what’s behind the Park Champion campaign, NRPA’s signature grassroots advocacy initiative. It engages park and recreation professionals, park advocates and decisionmakers across the nation in a unique advocacy campaign. Through webinars with expert guest speakers, comprehensive tools and staff on-hand, the Park Champion initiative is making it easy to bring Capitol Hill to a park near you.
Becoming a Park Champion
There are several benefits to becoming a Park Champion, including the opportunity to develop relationships with your members of Congress and to showcase your parks, facilities and programs, gaining valuable event planning and advocacy skills, strengthening volunteer support by mobilizing them in advocacy and building a better understanding of how federal funding affects local parks and recreation. A key benefit NRPA offers our Park Champions is a step-by-step Park Champion Advocacy Toolkit, which contains draft invitations, contact information for all members of Congress’ office schedulers and helpful tips on how to plan a successful site visit.
This summer, you can make a huge difference in the fight for the future of parks and recreation! Invite your members of Congress out for a visit and show them what the work you do every day means to your community. If you have an exciting summer program, ribbon-cutting, park dedication, summer meals program or infrastructure project, don’t forget to invite your members of Congress! Visit www.nrpa.org/park-champions to get started! Reach out to Jayni Rasmussen, advocacy and outreach manager, for help with invitations and event coordination.
Note: All Park Champion events shared before Friday, August 31, 2018, are eligible for the 2018 Park Champion of the Year Award! Visit Park Chamption Advocacy Toolkit and let us know about your event.
Megan Phillippi is NRPA’s Public Policy Intern